Living in the same house but separated by two years, Dr. Kate Forster (Bullock) and architect Alex Wyler (Reeves) begin a relationship by letter that inexplicably traverses time. As their relationship intensifies, the pair have to reconcile their growing feelings against the reality of their lives.
The polar opposite of speed, Keanu Reeves and Sandy Buttocks’ first movie together since The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down is a slow, borderline sombre, but absorbing time-travel love story. A remake of little-seen Taiwanese film Il Mare, retooled by Argentinian director Agresti — who made the charming Valentin — The Lake House buttresses Sleepless In Seattle up against novel The Time Traveler’s Wife. The result grows on you, but never delivers the moving sucker-punch the stars and concept deserve.
Early doors, things do not look promising. The slick juxtaposition of Kate and Alex’s separate lives sets in motion a rigid structure, throwing up workaday scenes that offer little in the way of character quirks or plot hooks. But things pick up immeasurably once the ‘long-distance’ relationship gathers momentum, with cute moments like Alex planting a sapling that arrives fully grown outside Kate’s house. From here on in, the movie has fun filtering romance through time-travel devices — Alex books a restaurant two years in advance — but gives the relationship enough weight so you’ll forgive it the inevitable logic lapses.
A long way from the sleek Neo, a subdued Reeves skulks about in high-neck jumpers and doesn’t really sell an estranged relationship with his father (Christopher Plummer), but does enough
to make the relationship and Kate’s investment feel real. Bullock fares much better, reminding us what an underrated dramatic actress she is, doing interesting things with an underwritten role — watch her compose herself for a surprise party she’s not in the mood for.
Enhancing the tenderness of the tale, Agresti lenses the action in soft, pretty tones and compiles a soundtrack of different likeable acoustic songs. But, as befalls many epistolary movies, he runs
out of steam coming up with new ways of dramatising the letters, resorting to heavy voiceover and characters talking aloud to themselves in scenes that feel false. He also can’t help piling on the visual metaphors — the Lake House is a glassy abode hemmed in by water that — hey!— mirrors Kate and Alex’s disconnectedness — and deploys a shameless use of HHISS (Heavy Handed Ice-Skating Symbolism) to underline Kate’s singledom. Still, he keeps the central conceit engaging and sweet and, if he blatantly telegraphs one major plot point, The Lake House is that romantic rarity, a love story where the fate of the lovers could go either way.
A compelling idea delicately handled and neatly played, especially by Bullock. It just lacks the emotional directness to turn the good into the great.